Friday, April 13, 2012

Classic Mexican (Brown) Rice Pudding with Cinnamon and Dried Fruit (Arroz con Leche Clásico) with Mexican Raw Sugar Syrup (Miel de Piloncillo)

When I first moved to Hawaii, eleven years ago this month (Yikes! Has it been that long?!), it was hard to find ingredients for ethnic cooking outside of the Asia-Pacific countries. Over the years the selection has improved, and in Honolulu we now have access to an Indian/Middle Eastern market, a small Greek/Mediterranean shop (next-door to a favorite restaurant), and of course, Whole Foods stocks a great collection of diverse ingredients. My favorite place to wander through is the Latin Mercado that opened not long after I moved here. With the start of our six months of weekly cooking with Rick Bayless at I Heart Cooking Club, it seemed like a good time for a trip back there to scout for and purchase ingredients.

It was a fruitful trip, netting me fresh ingredients for this week and next, and a few pantry items for the future. For this week's Sweet Tooth theme, I headed right for the bin of piloncillo, the little cones of Mexican raw sugar. They are so cute (if sugar can be cute!), that I always stop and look at them, but with Rick's recipe for Arroz con Leche Clásico (Classic Mexican Rice Pudding with Cinnamon and Dried Fruit) in my head, I actually grabbed a couple of cones to take home and make Miel de Piloncillo (Mexican Raw Sugar Syrup) to drizzle over the pudding.

I used to think rice pudding was mushy and unappetizing, but I rediscovered it in the last couple of years and find that I quite like it when it is made with brown rice as the flavor is slightly nuttier, and the texture slightly chewier--both wins in my book. So, I adapted the rice pudding recipe from Mexico One Plate at a Time to use brown rice, slightly less sugar, and made it dairy-free (coconut milk makes a wonderful creamy sauce). While maybe not "classic" as the recipe name states, it was a creamy bowl of comfort food goodness all the same.

*My recipe changes are in red below

Classic Mexican Rice Pudding with Cinnamon and Dried Fruit (Arroz con Leche Clásico)
Adapted from Mexico One Plate at a Time, Rick Bayless
(Serves 6 Generously--Makes About 5 1/2 cups)

2-inch cinnamon stick (preferably Mexican canela), plus a little ground for serving
2 (2-inch) pieces orange zest (colored rind only), taken off the orange with a vegetable peeler
1 cup rice, preferably medium-grain (I used 1 cup med-grain brown rice)
4 cups milk (whole milk for a creamier texture) (I used about 5 cups coconut milk--3 cups Soy Delicious unsweetened coconut milk and 1 can Thai Kitchen Lite coconut milk)
3/4 cup sugar (I used a scant 1/4 cup Maui raw sugar + a scant 1/4 cup local honey)
1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit (I used dried pineapple and papaya)

(1/4 cup toated pepitas (pumpkin seeds) to garnish)
about 3/4 cup Mexican Raw Sugar Syrup, optional (recipe below)

Step 1- Preliminary Rice Cooking:
Into a medium-size (3-quart) saucepan, measure 1 3/4 cups water. Add the cinnamon stick, orange zest and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat 5 minutes. Stir in the rice, re-cover and cook until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and orange zest. (Note: I put my brown rice in the rice cooker along with the orange zest, canela (cinnamon stick), and salt plus 2 cups of water, and cooked until done, about 40 minutes in my rice cooker.)

Step 2- From Cooked Rice to Pudding
To the pan add the milk and sugar. Set over medium to medium-low heat and simmer until the mixture just begins to thicken (it should look no thicker than heavy cream), about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the raisins or other dried fruit, and let cool for a few minutes. The pudding will thicken considerably as it cools. (Note: I added the cooked rice to a saucepan with the coconut milk, sugar and honey and brought to a simmer over medium heat. I then let it simmer about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. I added the dried fruit and cooked about 15 minutes longer until the fruit was soft and the rice very creamy.)

Step 3- Serving the Rice Pudding
I think rice pudding is at its most delectable when it is slightly warm. I suggest you either serve it freshly made and still warm from the pan or reheat it in the microwave or on the stovetop, stirring gently to avoid breaking the grains. Spoon the rice pudding into a serving dish or individual bowls, dust with cinnamon or drizzle with the Mexican Raw Sugar Syrup and carry to the table. A wonderful, warm treat awaits. (Note; I served the pudding warm, dusted with ground cinnamon, drizzled with the sugar syrup and topped with a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds for texture.)

Rick's Notes: Working Ahead: The pudding can be made a day or two ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Cold pudding may thicken into a stiff mass, but don’t worry: simply stir in enough milk to soften it up and you’re ready to complete the serving steps. Warm rice pudding is always a favorite.

Mexican Raw Sugar Syrup (Miel de Piloncillo)
From Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless
(Makes about 3/4 cup)

1 large (8-9 oz) cone piloncillo (Mexican raw sugar)
one 2-inch strip orange zest (colored rind only), taken off the orange with a vegetable peeler
1/8 tsp anise seed

In a small saucepan, combine the piloncillo with 2 cups of water, orange zest, and anise seeds. Set over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Stir regularly until sugar cone melts completely, then maintain a gentle boil until the mixture has reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 20-30 minutes. Cool, then strain into a jar. Syrup will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Notes/Results: So good! The orange and cinnamon flavor come through nicely and the rice is very creamy but still has a little bit of chewy goodness. (Plus if you can more than double the fiber in "dessert" to slow down the absorption of all that sugar--it makes it health food in my book!) ;-) I find making brown rice pudding with extra liquid helps the creaminess factor as it cooks so much longer. Another trick that I didn't use here (from Mark Bittman), is to "beat up" the brown rice slightly in the food processor before cooking to release more of the starches. (I'll try it next time and let you know!) I reduced the sugar because coconut milk tastes sweeter, the chopped unsulphured dried fruit I buy from my co-op is slightly sugared, and I was making the raw sugar syrup for drizzling--it would have been far too sweet with the whole 3/4 cup. Speaking of the Mexican raw sugar syrup--it's easy to make and the touch of orange and anise gives it a rich complexity. I like a little crunch with all that creamy and was going to put slivered almonds on top when it occurred to me to use toasted pumpkin seeds--perfect! Excellent when served, just as good when reheated for breakfast the next morning. I would make this again.

You can check out what the other IHCC participants made for their Sweet Tooth by going to the post here and following the links.

Happy Aloha Friday!


  1. i like your changes.  i prefer brown rice too!

  2. I love this! Brown rice + tropical fruit + no dairy! Adding this to my to-make list for sure. (I just recently made a brown rice fried-rice dish with turkey.)

  3. This looks yummy! I have never tried rice pudding before, simply because I always imagine them as super sweet and gummy! After reading yours, I am super curious to try some! Love the changes that you made! 
    Have a lovely weekend!

  4. I wouldn't mind having this for breakfast. Looks delicious, beautiful pics too. :) 

  5. I love rice puddings! and you are right, it tastes better with brown rice. Definitely going to try your version too :D

  6. I love coconut milk in porridge, but I never thought to try it with brown rice! What a good idea!

  7. Loved the pudding..would love to try it out if I get all the ingredients here.

  8. I'm a HUGE fan of rice pudding for dessert and I know I would love the chew of the brown rice!  This looks ideal in so many ways.

  9. DROOLING! That looks amazing. I could easily eat a bowl as a meal or dessert. And yes, sugar can definitely be adorable - piloncillo qualifies ;). I love miel de's almost drinkable!

  10. I love your touch with the pepitas!  Right on!

  11. I just discovered rice pudding myself this past year.  I  would love to try the nutty flavor of brown rice in this pudding.   and I too think those little brown cones of sugar are cute!  Who wouldn't?

  12. Deb - I think you chose the most comforting dessert recipe!  This looks delicious with the dried fruit and crunchy pepitas on top.  I'm very curious about the miel de piloncilo.  I bet it was fun to make.  I always enjoy cooking with something new.

  13. Natashya Kitchen PuppiesApril 15, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    Great score on the Mexican ingredients - and you know rice pudding is one of my absolute faves - I assume you made this for me! I'll be right there. ☺

  14. Wow!  This almost looks healthy!

  15. Yes, please!!!  I would love a big bowl of your arroz con leche!  It all sounds so good...the piloncillo syrup and the pepitas.  Mmm-mmmm! :) 


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